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Wildlife Portrait Photography Tips

9 min read

Unless your taking photos at a zoo you most likely be shooting wildlife portrait photography from a distance.

Wild animals become very skittish when humans encroach on their natural environments. Animals don’t like us to getting too close to them and will often hide from view (making animal portraits very difficult!)

If you’d like to capture great animal photography you’ll have to learn the tricks of the trade for photographing wildlife from a distance. Tricks we’re going to teach you in this tutorial.

Let’s get started.

Use a Telephoto Lens

Since wild animals usually hide from us photographers when we get too close its important to use a telephoto lens.

A telephoto lens is essential in wildlife portrait photography because it allows you to shoot images from far away without disturbing animals in their natural environment. A good focal length for animal photography is a lens that is between 200-400mm.

Use a Large Aperture

The best animal portraits are ones where the subject is isolated from the background. By nature, animals have camouflage and if you don’t select the right aperture they will blend into the environment – reducing the effectiveness of your photo.

When capturing animal portraits it’s usually best to use a large aperture setting.

Large apertures (or low f-stop numbers) allow more light to hit your camera’s sensor, which creates a narrow depth of field for your photo. Narrow depth of field is ideal for photographing animals as it helps to isolate your subject from the background. Even if the animal has strong camouflage for its environment a narrow depth of filed will blur the background and help the subject stand out from its surroundings. Creating beautiful wildlife photography.


Animal portraits by blmiers2
Notice how using a large aperture setting has separated these animals from the background by blurring it. If a smaller aperture was used the animals would blend in to the background through their natural camouflage. Photos by blmiers2

Use an Appropriate Shutter Speed

In our first tip on photographing portraits of wildlife, you learned that the most shots require a long focal length (200-400mm). Since this is the case you need to pay close attention to the shutter speed that you choose. Long focal lengths require faster shutter speeds.

A good rule of thumb is that the minimum shutter speed you can choose on your camera (when shooting handheld) is one over the focal length. This helps account for the slight camera shake from hand holding the camera and reduces motion blur. For example, if you’re using a focal length of 300mm, the slowest shutter speed you can use handheld is 1/300th for a sharp photograph.

If you use a tripod you may be able to use a slightly slower shutter speed for your shot. But, one over the focal length is a good place to start. In general, photographing a good animal portrait requires a fast shutter speed because animals move around a lot and often in quick bursts. Faster shutter speeds allow you to capture an animal in motion without the subject becoming a blur. The best way to figure out which shutter speed to choose is to experiment.

If Necessary Raise ISO over Lowering Shutter Speed

As we mentioned in our second tip it’s important to use a large aperture setting to allow for more light into your camera to get the best animal photography.

A large aperture allows you to use a faster shutter speed.

While on location, if you’re not getting the correct exposure for your shot we recommend that you raise your ISO setting before lowering the shutter speed. An increase in image noise is more acceptable than sacrificing the sharpness of your subject by lowering the shutter speed.

Additional Tips for Photographing Wildlife Portraits

Below, you’ll find additional tips for capturing animal photography.

  • Be aware of wildlife laws so you do not negatively affect the environments or get into trouble.
  • Whenever you seen an opportunity always take the first shot quickly regardless of your camera’s settings. Otherwise, the opportunity may be lost and you’ll end up with nothing. After this first shot, then you can start adjusting the settings to improve your photo.
  • Try to capture animals doing something (this makes most appealing photos).
  • When an animal is walking or flying try to compose the shot with an area for them to look into or walk into.
  • Don’t crop the image too tight, allow a little room for the environment they are in, you can always trim it off later if you want.
  • There are lots of ways to attract wildlife, including putting out food, adding a small pond, growing plants that attract butterflies and adding bird and other boxes.

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial on capturing wildlife portrait photography and animal portraits. If you have any additional tips please leave a comment below so that other photographers can take advantage of this knowledge.


  1. […] Capturing Wildlife Photography from a Distance – a brief and straight-forward tutorial that discusses some basic tips and tricks for photographing wildlife.  This genre can be challenging due to physical constraints and technical details, and this article touches on these points. Great Links […]

  2. Larry A

    April 15, 2012 at 1:06 am

    Very nice easy to understand but ideal lens 200-400mm is a bit confusing is that on full frame? Or 1.5 cropped sensor which would make it 300-450mm..

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